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Thursday, 23 June 1949

Mr GULLETT (Henty) .- The remarks of the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Thompson) are a pleasant contrast to those of most Government supporters, who have concentrated on abusing the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) and misrepresenting his views on this proposal. I welcome the speech by the honorable member for Hindmarsh because he had the fairness to admit that every honorable member supports this bill whole-heartedly and congratulates the Government upon its aims. Naturally, we support the Snowy Mountains scheme, because it is, in essence, one of the greatest developmental schemes that have ever been submitted to this Parliament. The point at issue now is that the Snowy Mountains scheme is not called a developmental work. Members of the Opposition object to the attempt to describe the work as a defence project. Why is it being called a defence project ? As the Leader of the Opposition and the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) have pointed out, it is being called a defence project, and is treated as such, so that the Commonwealth may control it, and, in turn, control the States. Honorable members opposite do not hesitate to express, from time to time, their views about the reduction of the sovereign powers of the States. Supporting this project as we do, I cannot see, at this stage, any reasons for becoming excited, as the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Fraser) has become. After all, we do not imagine that the Commonwealth is about to proceed with the work. The necessary labour, machinery and materials including steel and coal, have not yet been provided for the job. This bill will merely establish the. Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Authority. As far as honorable members can judge at present, this bill will place the Commonwealth in the same position as it occupies in respect of legislation dealing with the standardization of railway gauges and the establishment of the aluminium industry in Australia. In many respects, this 'bill is a piece of window-dressing for the forthcoming general election. I am prepared to take a wager now that before we go to the polls, an honorable member opposite will be photographed in the act of turning the first sod in the Snowy Mountains area, and the photograph will he published in the press and otherwise circulated throughout the Commonwealth. But that will be the extent of the work.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Mr Lazzarini - Order! The honorable member must relate his remarks to the clause under consideration.

Mr GULLETT - The Leader of the Opposition has queried the statement by the Minister for Defence (Mr. Dedman) that the Snowy Mountains scheme is primarily a defence project. I support the views that the Leader of the Opposition has expressed on that aspect. This Government has notoriously been most tardy and " gutless " in defence matters.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN - Order ! This clause does not deal with defence matters. It relates to the appointment of a commissioner and two associate commissioners.

Mr GULLETT - In accordance with your ruling, Mr. Temporary Chairman, I shall not pursue that aspect, and I shall turn to some of the arguments which the Minister for Defence and the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) have used in support of this clause. Both Ministers have declared that the Snowy Mountains scheme is a defence project, because the United Kingdom Government has asked the Australian Government to undertake certain work in connexion with Empire defence. I merely comment that had the United Kingdom Government asked the Australian Government to undertake a work of such magnitude in the interests of Empire defence, Ave would have heard a great deal about it before a passing reference was made to the subject this afternoon in order to justify a point which had arisen in a minor clause of the bill. I do not believe that the United Kingdom Government has asked the Aus- tralian Government to undertake this work. That statement was thought up and thrown into the debate at the last minute in an attempt to justify the basis of the whole project.

The Minister for Defence used an expression to the effect that Australia was becoming a main support area in an integrated scheme for Empire defence. "What on earth does that mean? I am most anxious to know the answer to that question. How can Australia he a main support area when all that we have is a scheme for the provision of a great hydro-electric power plant. The bill deals almost exclusively with the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority. Australia has not the necessary ships, man-power or weapons to be a main support area in an integrated scheme for Empire defence. However, I shall not elaborate that point. It is too ridiculous to warrant further comment.

The Minister for Defence has also stated that we must pay great attention to the war industrial potential of the country. There are certain matters in relation to the industrial potential of this country that should occupy the attention of the Government at the present time. Our coal-fields are a great source of power, but through the inaction of the Government, our power resources are at a lower point than they have ever been in the past.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN - Order ! The honorable member must return to the clause under consideration.

Mr GULLETT - Australian defence industries, and other industries, are completely disrupted, and the Government is doing absolutely nothing to remedy the situation. The argument that the Snowy Mountains scheme is an integral part of our defence plan is humbug, and I merely rose to point out that fact. I prefer this plan to go ahead, even in its present form, rather than not to go forward at all, but I feel, at this juncture, that I should expose some of the hastily-conceived and palpably insincere arguments that have been advanced in support of the Snowy Mountains scheme as a defence project.

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